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A $500 House in Detroit: Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and an American City

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  857 ratings  ·  144 reviews
A young college grad buys a house in Detroit for $500 and attempts to restore it—and his new neighborhood—to its original glory in this “deeply felt, sharply observed personal quest to create meaning and community out of the fallen…A standout” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

Drew Philp, an idealistic college student from a working-class Michigan family, decides to live wh
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published April 11th 2017 by Scribner
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Average rating 3.91  · 
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 ·  857 ratings  ·  144 reviews

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Mar 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
I myself just live 3.5 miles north of the 8 Mile Road division line of Detroit and the suburbs, just off of Gratiot, the name the author gave to his adopted dog. My grandparents and great aunts and uncles all lived in the "city" at one time and slowly moved out.
Since that time a lot has gone down, and many people moved out.
Drew, the author, after graduating college, decided he wanted to move to the city from a comfortable life in the suburbs, in search for a more authentic life. He buys a huge
3.5 Stars.

The title, A $500 HOUSE IN DETROIT, drew me in as I lived the first 25 years of my life in a suburb of Detroit and still have many relatives who reside there. Over the last several decades, I've heard stories about the suspicious fires, needless destruction, and of course, the city's ultimate downfall and bankruptcy that author Drew Philp addresses here.

This work of non-fiction centers around Drew himself as a young naive man with a big heart, a lot of backbone and very limited funds w

Apr 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
I almost gave up on a $500 House in Detroit, but I'm glad I didn't. It's not perfect, but somewhere in the middle it had me fully engaged and by the end I was even a bit teary. Drew Philp moved to Detroit when he was 23 years old. He had very little money, was a few credits shy of a degree from the University of Michigan, and had the idea that he wanted to fix up an old house in Detroit. At first, Philp's book seemed a bit aimless and a bit too self-aggrandizing. But as I got into it, I really s ...more
♥ Sandi ❣
3.5 stars

This book is very hard for me to review. There are parts that I really liked, but parts that I felt were very self-serving. Not too far into the book I garnered a dislike for the author. He seemed to be very arrogant and haughty, disguised behind his stated insecurities. In his youthful age, and lack of any practical experience, he was ready to take on the world. With that type of enthusiasm, I should have been delighted - a young man raring to go and start his life under his terms. How
Jan 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
A portrait of urban pioneering. I admire the author's determination to try and help turn the tide for Detroit by staying there instead of taking a job elsewhere.
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I wanted to read Drew Philp's book A $500 House in Detroit because he, like so many other young people, have returned to the city to make it home, to help establish a new city, a better city. Like the young man at my hair salon who bought a house in Brightmoor , who, starting from scratch, is making a new kind of house for a new generation.

Philp came from a rural area of Michigan, from generations of people who worked with their hands. He attended University of Michigan but was repulsed by the v
May 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In 2009, Drew Philp was close to graduation from the University of Michigan, had no job prospects and was nearly penniless when he bid on an abandoned two story Queen Anne (and lots next to it) in the Poletown urban prairie neighborhood located in Detroit. “A $500 House In Detroit: Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and an American City”” is his debut memoir of rebuilding his house, his life, and becoming a part of a larger community collective.

The Queen Anne would require a great amount of time to em
Sarah Booth
Apr 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked this up on a whim from work and read it in two sittings. I’ve heard bits and pieces about Detroit over the years and here was a story about someone living it. The author, while white, doesn’t come off too much like a know it all who has all the answers to race relations or the answers to the problem of how to “save Detroit” other than to literally help your neighbors and be a member of the neighborhood as small communities and actions do matter, add up and make a difference. He admits t ...more
Jun 14, 2017 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
M. Sarki
Nov 26, 2017 rated it liked it

It is understandable that a young man would want to set down on record such a courageous and meaningful experience as restoring an old home in one of our most ravaged and dangerous inner cities. But the every detail provided by this amateur home renovator is often too much and really not necessary. Philp’s brief flirtation as well with a visiting female architectural student was also a bit superfluous and awkward. Many attempts were made by the writer to i
Mar 17, 2018 rated it liked it
It took me awhile to get through this one, mainly because for the first half of the book, I didn’t care for the author too much. It all seemed a bit self-serving. We don’t care about your sex life, Drew. He did end up growing on me throughout and you cannot deny that what he did was and still is pretty remarkable. It’s something that I could never do. There was also a lot to learn about Detroit in this book. The good, the bad, and the downright ugly. It was extremely eye-opening and really force ...more
Sep 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
I've had an interest in the plight of Detroit for years now, so the content of this account was always going to be something that I would enjoy. Was interesting to get the impression that the author felt akin to the local community and lamented the gentrification of the city despite being a gentrifier himself. Still a city I would love to go to, although having read this, I'm not sure if ethically, allowing people to profit off the hardship of a community who suffered for decades is something th ...more
Kelly Doonan
Oct 06, 2017 rated it liked it
I felt an obligation to like the book because of the ideologies it embraces, but at times I found the author's professions of altruism to be arrogant and preachy. I respect the author's strong work ethic, his desire to do the right thing and some of his enlightening social insights. I finished it, but can't say I'd recommend it.

Scheduled: Oct 21, 2017
For the past couple days I've found myself actively avoiding reading this so I'm throwing in the towel. I think it's a generational thing.
Luanne Ollivier
May 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was born across the river from Detroit. As a child we often crossed the border to shop. I watched the fireworks on the river and my male relatives loved checking out all the new cars that Detroit was producing. Driving the tunnel under the river was an adventure.
That was many years ago and as everyone knows, the boom went bust for Detroit. We've read about Detroit's problems in the news, but what about the regrowth that is happening? Or the people that never left? Drew Philp. is one of those
I really enjoyed this book and started recommending it to others while i was not even done with it. I live in Ann Arbor, MI, about a 45 min drive from downtown Detroit. Ever since visiting Detroit for the first time in 2013, I have been eager to learn more about the city and its story. Drew offers a very personal and unique perspective on life in the D. Thanks to his book, I am walking away with a better understanding of the city's socioeconomic history, racial urban politics, city politics, and ...more
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
This memoir offers a point of view that often gets left out of the "dying city" Detroit narrative. As a Youngstown resident, I found his tale of scrappy artists, imperfect activists, and unlikely communities particularly inspiring, and familiar.

I knocked off a star for the inexplicably harsh critique of suburbanites, and anyone who doesn't make what they need from trash. I like making things, but I don't view people who don't with contempt. To each his own.
Jonny Parshall
I absolutely love this book. It is amazing, and I believe that as both a reader and a Michigander.

I also bloody hate this book. I have no right to hate it, it's purely out of envy. I, too, am writing a book of Detroit, including many similar experiences as Philp. Comparing checklists to each book, one might find many of the same boxes checked. Now, when mine is published, somebody will label me a fraud, copycat.

But maybe it's worth it. This book is frickin great.
This is a fantastic book. It is well-written and it held my attention throughout the entire book. Oftentimes, I would find myself thinking of this book all day and it is a thoughtful insight of what it is to live in Poletown, in Detroit as well as building a home there using scraps and recycling the materials from other abandoned homes. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is a must-read.
Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Mary by: Deborah Stevens
I enjoyed this book and the author's multi-stranded journey through a home renovation in a very, very hostile environment. Mr. Philp shows a great deal of insight into his own reasons for taking on the project. As he reuses parts of his neighborhood to rebuild his house, he becomes part of Detroit's curious self-regeneration. I look forward to more books and articles from him.

Oct 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Uplifting and informative, this book gives me hope in the resurgence of Detroit!
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Drew Philp devoted himself to doing his part to help revive a community in Detroit by rehabing an abandoned house using mostly scrapped materials and doing the work himself.
Geraldine (geraldinereads)
Mar 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
This was pretty good and I learned a lot about Detroit that I didn't know before!
Nikki C
Dec 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Drew was able to put into words so many thoughts I’ve had about Detroit and really captured what it’s like to be a young person living in the city right now. I highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially if you live in Detroit!
Bob Condra
Apr 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
I’ve long been interested in the boom-to-bust story of Detroit, how it went from the American city with the highest per capita income in the 1950s to its recent bankruptcy. Philp weaves stories and anecdotes about how red lining real-estate practices and white flight decades ago drove the prosperity to the suburbs. An idealistic 23-year-old college grad, Philp moved to Detroit and bought a house for $500 at auction that had been vacant for ten years, with plumbing, electrical and doors stripped ...more
Nov 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If I could give this book six stars (for Al Kaline, of course), I would.
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
At times I thought I would rate this at three stars instead. I was really interested with his progress on the house, but sometimes felt too much like I was reading his journal word-for-word. There were also enough typos for me to notice them, which seems odd coming from a major imprint.
Carolyn Wagner
Jul 18, 2020 rated it it was ok
I have really mixed feelings about this book. I loved the description of the sense of community and how neighbors pulled together to celebrate, work together, look after each other in a very hard, difficult-to-survive-in part of Detroit. I've lived in my house 19 years and can only tell you the names of 3 families living within a block any direction from me, so I'm a little envious of that aspect of the author's experience. HOWEVER, this book comes across like a huge humble brag, full of self-ri ...more
Edy Gies
Mar 02, 2020 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this book. I wanted to hear what Drew had to say and hear how he learned and grew as a person. I wanted to learn how a person with determination and grit could become stronger and more powerful in a community that stands together. Unfortunately, I was distracted by the fact that in this story, I am the antagonist. My parents are the arch antagonist. (Is that a thing?) I grew up in and currently live in one of those suburbs that he rails against. I never went downtown because my ...more
Bill Sleeman
Feb 04, 2018 rated it really liked it

A $500 dollar house in Detroit by Drew Philp is an interesting ground-level view of the author’s work in re-building a house and his efforts to help create a home and community for himself in Detroit. His commitment to Detroit and his desire to help be a part of something bigger is palpable throughout which the book’s saving grace is and why I give it a four and not a two. Readers should be aware that however well-intentioned the author he is also really, REALLY judgmental and this creates an un

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“There are an estimated forty square miles of vacant land in Detroit, enough to fit San Francisco inside just what’s been abandoned.” 1 likes
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